Big Ten

Pat Fitzgerald, Jim Harbaugh have nothing but good things to say about each other

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Pat Fitzgerald, Jim Harbaugh have nothing but good things to say about each other

Surprisingly, Saturday's game between Northwestern and Michigan has gone from preseason afterthought to a matchup of top-20 teams.

The game promises to be an immense challenge for both sides, as the two squads boast two of the country's top defenses.

Both Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald and Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh gave their previews of Saturday's game in their respective weekly press conferences Monday, and unsurprisingly both were effusive in their praise of their deserving opponent.

But it was maybe what the two coaches — two of the conference's more intriguing head men — said about each other that was of perhaps the most interest.

“Great competitor," Harbaugh said about Fitzgerald. "I was at Stanford, he was at Northwestern, first crossed paths on the recruiting trail. Sized him up and said, ‘This guy is a fine, fine coach and a great competitor.’ He’s done a fabulous job, he’s a great coach. Got to know him this summer, he came to our football camp, did a tremendous job talking to the campers and sharing football lessons and life lessons with them. That was fabulous. (Northwestern’s) football team is a tremendous football team, so everything you look at with Pat Fitzgerald is really good. Admire him.”

[MORE BIG TEN: Power Rankings: Cats, Hawkeyes are West's best]

Fitzgerald was likewise quite complimentary of Harbaugh and had a unique viewpoint given he grew up in the Chicagoland area when Harbaugh played for the Bears.

“Obviously I was a fan growing up. He played, watched him play for the Bears. Him and Ditka getting after it on the sideline, that was pretty cool," Fitzgerald said. "Got to know him a little bit, personally, through coaching when he was at Stanford and we’d see each other a little bit in recruiting. And from afar, great respect for the success he’s had not only as a player but then the stops along the way, great success on the field and great job what he did at Stanford. And then goes on to the 49ers and has them in the Super Bowl. You’ve got to tip your hat to the success that he’s had.

“Jim’s a tough guy, and you can see that his personality’s all over this football team in all three phases.”

[MORE BIG TEN: Illini's Josh Ferguson 'very, very doubtful' for game vs. Hawkeyes]

Harbaugh's praise of Northwestern went further, with the first-year Michigan coach calling the Wildcats one of the best defenses the Wolverines have played this season, with extra compliments for linebacker Anthony Walker.

"They react, as athletic and fast as anybody we’ve seen," Harbaugh said. "(Walker) is as good a player as we’ve faced. Really good scheme, they play great team defense, leading the country in points allowed. I think that’s the thing, mainly, is that this team reacts and flows to the ball as good as you’re going to see in college football.”

The two teams are heaping praise now, but surely when Saturday afternoon rolls around, things won't be quite as cordial.

Northwestern running back Jeremy Larkin diagnosed with cervical stenosis, will retire immediately

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USA TODAY

Northwestern running back Jeremy Larkin diagnosed with cervical stenosis, will retire immediately

Tough news out of Evanston this morning: Northwestern announced that running back Jeremy Larkin will retire immediately after being diagnosed with cervical stenosis.

Cervical stenois is the narrowing of the spinal canal in one's neck, according to Mayo Clinic. Larkin's condition is thankfully not life-threatening, though it does prevent him from continuing to participate in the game of football. 

"Football has been a lifelong passion and it has been a process to reconcile the fact I won't be on that field again, given I've played this game since I was five years old," Larkin said.

"I'm extremely appreciative of the Northwestern sports medicine and athletic training staffs for uncovering this condition, and for my coaches and the medical staff for always putting my health first.

"I came to this University to engage at the absolute highest level on the field and in the classroom, and I'm grateful for the opportunity to continue one of those while supporting my teammates from the sideline." 

Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald called the news "heartbreaking."

"This is heartbreaking because I see every day how much Jeremy loves the game, loves his teammates, and loves to compete," Fitzgerald said in a statement. "But this is the absolute best possible outcome for him.

"The discovery of this condition allowed Jeremy and his family to make an informed decision for his long-term health and well-being. For those of us who have known Jeremy Larkin since his high school days, his future is exceptionally bright. I can't wait to see the impact he makes in our world."

Larkin is a sophomore from Cincinnati. He finishes his Northwestern career with 156 carries for 849 yards and 10 rushing touchdowns.

Former Illini champion Kevin Anderson upsets Roger Federer in Wimbledon quarterfinal

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USA TODAY

Former Illini champion Kevin Anderson upsets Roger Federer in Wimbledon quarterfinal

Former University of Illinois tennis star Kevin Anderson completed a marathon upset against an all-time great on the highest stage of professional tennis.

Anderson came back from two sets down to beat Roger Federer in Wimbledon’s quarterfinals 2-6, 6-7, 7-6, 6-4, 13-11 on Wednesday morning. He will play in the semifinals of the tournament for the first time in his career.

As a native of South Africa, Anderson played three seasons with the Fighting Illini and won the NCAA doubles championship during the 2005-06 season as a sophomore. The 32-year-old was a three-time All-American in singles at Illinois.

Now, as the eighth ranked singles player on the ATP World Tour, Anderson is a force to be reckoned with at the professional level. He made it all the way to the US Open final in 2017.

The former Illini star will look to keep his recent success going when he represents Illinois in the semifinals of Wimbledon this Friday.